This village in Punjab's Ferozepur district was as sleepy as ever on Tuesday night. About 70 km away, Bhikhiwind in Tarn Taran district was celebrating. On Wednesday morning, it was the other way round.
In a bizarre turn of events, Fidda's Surjeet Singh (70), not Bhikhiwind's Sarabjit Singh (49), became the chosen one who is set to be released from Lahore's Kot Lakhpat jail.
"Tun murh suhagan ho gayi" (you've got your husband back), an excited villager told Surjeet's wife Harbans Kaur.
"The word 'Surjeet' means coming back to life. Now, he has got a second life, and so have I," Harbans said with tears of joy in her eyes. After a three-decade-long wait, Harbans is set to be reunited with her husband. Residents of Fidda village, 38 km from Ferozepur city, are ready to welcome Surjit. "We will go to Attari to receive him. We have been collecting money for his grand reception," said Joginder Singh, a villager.
"My father completed his term two years ago. I'm eagerly awaiting his return," Surjeet's son Kulwinder said.
He claimed that his father, who had worked for the Punjab police, had crossed over to Pakistan in 1981 and was arrested there. Surjeet was charged with spying and given the death sentence, which was commuted to life imprisonment in 1989.
The family had lost all hope of seeing him again when a prisoner released from Pakistan in 2005, Gurjit Singh, told them that he had met Surjeet in Kot Lakhpat jail. Gurjit also brought a letter written by Surjeet, in which the latter stated that he was due to be released in 2010. Due to financial problems, the family failed to visit Pakistan to meet Surjeet. Now, they are all set to welcome him home.
'No help from govts'
Surjeet's family lamented that successive Indian governments disowned him and offered them no help.
"My husband made sacrifices for the nation, but no government - union or state paid heed to our pleas for assistance," Harbans Kaur said.
Despite the money crunch, Harbans provided education to her four children (two daughters and two sons). One of her sons, Jaswinder, died of a brain disease in 2005 a fact Surjeet is unaware of. He also does not know that seven of his nine brothers and sisters are dead. Surjeet's father Sucha Singh passed away in 2003. His daughters Parvinder Kaur and Rani are married.
Surjeet's elder daughter Parvinder (35) met Pakistan human rights activist Ansar Burney in 2006 during his visit to Punjab. She also approached Sarabjit Singh's sister Dalbir Kaur, through whom she came into contact with Pakistan lawyer Awais Sheikh.
Sheikh, who is also Sarabjit's counsel, did not charge any money to file the case in a Pakistan court for Surjeet's release.
Parvinder also took over the role of bread-winner after her father went missing. She earned a livelihood by making khadi products at home.
"I am thankful to Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari for ordering my father's release. I appeal to the governments of India and Pakistan to release all prisoners who are in jail in the two countries even after completing their sentences."
"We are sad for Sarabjit and his family. We hope that he would also be released sooner than later," she said.